When serious about introduce viewers to the world of HBO Max’s Station Eleven, the present’s manufacturing group determined to flip the standard script: The current would really feel like the long run, and the long run would really feel just like the previous.
“We selected a whole lot of areas that had synthetic lighting, subway stations, a theater, even the streets at evening. Every little thing has this stark, artifical aesthetic,” cinematographer Christian Sprenger mentioned. “We supposed to let that be what the sci-fi future aesthetic usually appears like. And once you leap ahead to the long run, that just about appears like 200 years in the past.”
That imagined future is lush and inexperienced and exquisite. It’s an iconoclastic selection for a post-apocalyptic story. The primary episode of Station Eleven drops viewers in a now-familiar fictional setting: The world is ending, and a handful of characters are attempting to navigate that truth. The episode is generally set in our present-day world, in a snowy Chicago that’s about to be devastated by the lethal Georgia Flu. The story takes place over a couple of hours at evening, and the photographs are stark and white, snow all over the place.
However look extra intently and also you’ll see the episode makes distinctive use of coloration. Christmas lights twinkle, and the whiteness of the snow is so, so white. A younger woman wears a pink jacket over a cream-colored costume. The within of a subway prepare options temporary, shiny pops of coloration.
This premiere episode is directed by Hiro Murai, one in every of TV’s greatest visible stylists working proper now, and discovering colours on the finish of the world seems to be the overriding philosophy of the sequence, which captures the unusually hopeful tone of the Emily St. John Mandel novel the present is predicated on. Reds, blues, and greens are all over the place, and the producers tweaked the photographs to be extra colourful in post-production, the place so many post-apocalyptic tales would tweak them to have much less coloration.
“In some ways, we had been making an attempt to invert the post-apocalyptic style,” mentioned Station Eleven creator and showrunner Patrick Somerville. “Hiro all the time mentioned he wished to be there after we had been speaking about 12 months 20 [after the plague that kills most of humanity]. Quiet, huge, expansive, lovely, inexperienced. Not destroyed. Simply nonetheless.”
The tip of the premiere units up that visible concept superbly. The episode leaps ahead 20 years for a really temporary shot set within the post-apocalypse, the place all the pieces is lush and inexperienced. That tiny quantity of footage ended up being key to holding collectively an enormous manufacturing that filmed simply two episodes (the primary and third), each of which had been largely set within the pre-apocalypse, earlier than Covid-19 compelled an prolonged shutdown onto the manufacturing. That tiny snippet of footage of the post-apocalypse was shot by Sprenger, the sequence’ cinematographer for the episodes shot earlier than the shutdown. It grew to become key to all the pieces shot after the shutdown, the place Steve Cosens served as cinematographer.
“That second of Mackenzie [Davis, the series’ star] within the sand lure on the finish of episode one meant that Christian, who was the unique conceiver of the earlier than and after, did the colour timing of that scene. He popped the greens within the scrub and different plans. There’s that loopy blue sky, after which Mackenzie has pink and blue on. Christian simply popped all these colours for about 15 seconds in episode one, and it grew to become a information for Steve Cosens for all of 12 months 20,” Somerville mentioned.
And in distinction to most tales set in post-apocalyptic or dystopian futures, Station Eleven truly deemphasized coloration in scenes set earlier than everyone died. Sprenger mentioned that arose naturally from the design decisions made for the post-apocalyptic scenes.
“Yr 20 could be very naturally lit with plenty of shiny daylight and many colourful greens and flora and many saturation. We wished that world to really feel welcoming, and we wished to push in opposition to that idea of Cormac McCarthy’s [The Road’s] very gross, soiled, virtually monochromatic future, that unhappy apocalypse aesthetic,” Sprenger mentioned. “The place that led us was that 12 months zero, the world we’re at the moment dwelling in, wished to really feel just a little bit extra subdued and barely desaturated.”
Colour can be used all through the sequence for storytelling functions. The colour pink units the primary character, Kirsten, other than others throughout the present. It nods each to a violent militia often known as the Purple Bandanas (largely heard and never seen over the course of the present) and to the times she spent early within the apocalypse in an residence with two brothers. As you may see within the picture above, that residence was streaked with reds.
However the picture that leads this text additionally encompasses a pale sea inexperienced, which the manufacturing used as the colour of a mysterious group whose true plans turn into evident all through the course of the present. Thus, Station Eleven might use that sea inexperienced to emotionally hyperlink sure characters — usually simply characters who would flirt with becoming a member of the motion — to mentioned group. It might additionally pop that coloration into the background of scenes so your unconscious would nonetheless sense the presence of the group, even when no one from mentioned group was round.
Retaining a colourful search for the scenes set in 12 months 20 could possibly be difficult for the sequence’ designers, who wanted to create garments and units that believably mimicked human beings’ scavenging objects out of the wreckage, with out sacrificing the colourful coloration schemes. (In a single scene, a personality memorably wears an outfit manufactured from soda bottles, as an example.) Costume designer Helen Huang says she used plenty of athletic put on, which might retain not less than some coloration.
“You possibly can sand it to obliteration and it nonetheless appears to be like like what it’s. The colour remains to be very sturdy. We tried to overdye as many issues as attainable, so they preserve a whole lot of that coloration,” Huang mentioned. “We had our ager-dyers, paint over all the pieces very strategically. It retains a coloration however creates form of a sun-faded look. We did cheat how soiled some issues are to push again among the coloration to retain its authentic efficiency.”
And as soon as it got here time to digitally tweak the sequence’ coloration scheme, Station Eleven subtly used the desaturation widespread in post-apocalyptic tales for the scenes set proper now and within the rapid aftermath of the Georgia Flu, in distinction to the hyper-saturation of 12 months 20.
“Desaturation to me felt just a little bit like an overcast earlier than and after a storm. Having that feeling helped inform what folks had been feeling simply as a pandemic hit, they usually’re realizing they’ve misplaced members of the family,” mentioned Gina Gonzalez, the sequence’ post-production supervisor, who labored intently with the digital coloration group. “Then in 12 months 20, we’ve these artists who’re remembering what they cherished, and making an attempt to make artwork of what’s left to them and doing a great job of it. So magnificence is vital.”
In any case, for those who all of a sudden eliminated everybody from our current second, there would nonetheless be a lot coloration, argues Huang.
“A big a part of this undertaking is about optimism and reminiscence. These two issues additionally spark coloration, as a result of for those who take a look at our world as it’s now, for those who took away all of the folks in it, it’s stuffed with coloration. It’s stuffed with graphics. It’s a reminiscence of our civilization,” she mentioned. “It creates this world that’s separate from all the opposite language of the post-apocalyptic world that’s on the market.”
Station Eleven is way from the one post-apocalyptic film or TV present to embrace a coloration palette that differs from the standard bleak greys and blacks. Mad Max: Fury Highway, as an example, is filled with crisp blues and burnt yellows, highlighting its desert setting, and different post-apocalyptic tales like I Am Legend and The Strolling Useless have been set in worlds the place greenery has overtaken what as soon as had been human areas.
However what units Station Eleven aside is its willingness to push these vibrant colours to an excessive. Each time the sequence drops us right into a world the place humanity is rebuilding, regardless of the devastation of the Georgia Flu, that world feels virtually inviting. It’s not a suggestion that we ought to be hoping the top of the world arrives, but it surely does provide the promise that even after the top of all the pieces, folks will preserve discovering methods to look after one another. That optimistic vibe wouldn’t work with out the nice and cozy colours of the sequence’ visuals, so the present’s barely idiosyncratic decisions add as much as one thing not like another present on the market.
“This present was too sophisticated emotionally to not have coloration play an enormous function,” Somerville mentioned.